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Making money out of thin air

September 9, 2009

Make once, sell many times.

Nothing beats making something not necessarily unique, copyrighting or trademarking it and then selling it a thousand times over.

Writers, artists and others who make a living out of their creations do this all the time. Oh, and not forgetting software developers who have to contend with open source guys.

For those who’ve put in days and weeks of concentration on a well thought-out manuscript, a sculpture, a great piece of music, or some brilliant software, I’ll be the first to say they deserve to be rewarded for their hard work.

What I struggle to understand are those on the other side of the coin – those who expect to be richly rewarded for copyrighting or trademarking something that had been in public domain for a long time.

Let’s take the common English word. Apple trademarked “Apple” to sell something named Apple that had nothing to do with apples. Presumably I can also trademark the word “Sex” to sell something named Sex which has nothing to do with, well, sex. That’ll allow me to take over all the domain names that have that word too. With trade rights to a word like sex, think I can be richer than Apple Inc?

Sure the process of trademarking a common word is rigorous but it can be done and that’s my point. With some arguing, you can turn any common word in a dictionary into private property, all for profit of course, and the system allows it.

And its not just words. How about common scenery. Let’s say I snap a photo of the Eiffel Tower from a nearby bridge, something a million other tourists had done before me. I put it up on a personal blog and one day I find the same photo appearing on another blog. I have a right to sue.

Yes, it was a photo that I took, using my cheap phone camera and it took about 1 second of my time. It wasn’t a premeditated shoot. I was just carelessly snapping away and the photos are grainy junk. But it doesn’t matter that a million other photos that look just like it is out there. Its mine mine mine and you can’t touch it.

This is how you make money out of things we see and use everyday – through this weird concept of “ownership” of something that isn’t intrinsically yours (“sex” is in the frickin dictionary for heavens sake) and then licensing it for a fee for others to use.

So how to determine what’s fair and what’s not? To me genuine effort is where I draw the line. A pro photographer who invests time and money on lighting and composition is an artist. But for someone to demand a premium for something he took no effort to create but behaves as if he did, well… perhaps you see it but I don’t.

Similarly, inventing brand new words like Sony or Xbox is very different to swiping a common word off a dictionary and turning it into private property where you can sue for tresspass. I almost feel there ought to be a law prohibiting that. In you want it, then invent your own word. Yeah, and protect our swear words too, please. I wouldn’t wannaΒ  wake up one day to find half my vocabulary trademarked, along with the pictures of everyday scenes that I see.


Haha, what a coincidence. This headline Malaysia’s ‘McCurry’ beats McDonald’s over trademark popped up in my RSS as I was writing this post. πŸ˜€

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2009 9:41 am

    Whoa, will be funny if in the future, we have to say “hey, F**k Inc is having a promotion on their products like F**k Pod”.

    yea, i think they should stop people from using those words as company names πŸ˜›

    Also i think a company name is just a company name. One can have Orange or Durian as company names but if the company has remarkable result n products, people will print that into their mind — Orange means THAT company and not that fruit.

    They got Orange telecoms co. in the UK, and I think Pineapple systems here. The closest one that sounds obscene is French Connection UK or fcuk, a clothing company. I have a t-shirt from them with a nice big fcuk logo across the front. πŸ™‚

  2. September 9, 2009 3:37 pm

    Most of the musicians , artist etc ..are too busy composing and creating something new , until they f*ck up the marketing side ..that is why we get managers to handle our deals ..

    So what is fair ? the genuine effort or the guy that “close the deal” ?
    From what i observed , people are rewarding the guy that “close the deal” more than the genuine effort ..

    Artist gets 10-15% Commission for every album sold . Producers gets the other 85-90% , because they are the Investors . Pretty screw up eh ? Sorry for the random comment

    Haha, its the same for authors and artists. But still, with only 10-15% celeb artists still live in million dollar mansions so its not all that bad is it? It looks like novelists and artists have it worse.

  3. September 9, 2009 6:58 pm

    Damien, pardon me and Gapnap. We’ve been quite vulgar lately. Must be the haze.

    And I thought its the water you guys drink, lol. Nah I’m immune to colorful language. Its a benefit of going to school in America. πŸ™‚

  4. September 14, 2009 12:29 pm

    Ah… Looks like I’m in for a tough time… sigh…

    I think you can and should get good returns on original handmade artwork. It is opportunists masquerading as artists that spoil the market.

  5. September 16, 2009 9:07 pm

    Yep. Thanks. I’ll need to stay focused and stick stubbornly with it. (Pity the guitar though)…

    Don’t worry, every guitar has its day. πŸ™‚

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